Derrick Bolton, as you may know, is the Dean of Admissions at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Nice guy, does good work. And has a stick up his you-know-what about MBA admissions consultants.
We don’t have any current, 2015 evidence of this. Maybe his stance has changed over time – but we don’t think so. Here’s what the GSB reported that Mr. Bolton said to the Wall Street Journal in an interview about Stanford admissions several years back:
When asked about applicants using admissions consultants, he replied, “How can someone who doesn’t know you help you be a more authentic version of yourself?”
(We quoted that from a 2011 post on the now-defunct GSB MBA Admissions Blog, which they took down in December 2014 – we captured it here just for reference.)
On the surface, that sounds like a very reasonable complaint. The adcoms want to see the “real you” (whatever that is) and we totally get it: How can a complete stranger help you to articulate who you are?
But there are three problems with this:
1. First, this statement actually sounds totally ignorant when we consider the approach that most MBA applicants take to the process of writing their essays. In our experience, EVERYONE starts off by trying to say what they think they should say. The first drafts we often get from people are stinky-poo material that make us want to hold our noses and grasp the thing by thumb and forefinger on outstretched arm, to hold it as far away from us as possible so as not to breathe in the stench. People spew forth annoyingly cloyingly yuckiness on the page in an attempt to be impressive. They don’t need a consultant to do that. Doesn’t Derrick Bolton know this by now??
2. The other problem with this is the assumption that people know who they are. Yeah yeah yeah we get it, you know that you like chocolate ice cream better than vanilla, and that you were born in Zimbabwe and now you live in Paris, and that you got a 710 on the GMAT… but is any of that who you really are? Don’t people go to therapists to discover themselves? Yeah, therapists… or counselors… otherwise known as COMPLETE STRANGERS.
3. Maybe it’s BECAUSE we don’t know the applicant that we can start to elicit those valuable kernels of truth lurking down in the depths. Someone who already knows you – or you yourself – may assume that X, Y, and Z are important or useful or, idunno, UNIQUE, and you may decide to emphasize that thing over others in your apps. But not only is a well experienced separate third-party person better equipped to help you figure out the “who you are” thing, that experienced person also has the benefit of seeing what other people believe is unique. We can spot patterns, and cliches, and old worn-out tired trends. We can help people not fall into the basic traps that everyone falls into – BECAUSE we don’t know you, so we don’t assume anything about who you are, you’re a blank slate, and also BECAUSE we see so many others who are trying to broadcast their “uniqueness” (and who often fail so miserably at it).
We also fully appreciate the problems that arise with a bad admissions consultant – someone who thinks there’s a formula to getting in to a school like Stanford (we heard one consultant insist that every person he’d helped with a successful Stanford app had written about a relative in their ‘matters most’ essay and that that was the only way to do it), or someone who thinks the same approach that works for Columbia will also work for the GSB. Or who just doesn’t have much experience in working with PEOPLE to help them dig into their stories and come up with the best material to present. Or who thinks it’s OK to tell people what to write. We have a big problem with consultants who do that (and BTW, we also have a problem with clients who want that – please don’t outsource the answers for what to do with your life to someone else).
A good MBA admissions consultant puts the client through a process (or if you’re an EssaySnark client, some may call it “the wringer” 😉 ) which is designed to guide the applicant
into the depths of their soul past the muck-a-muck obvious answers, past the this-sounds-good answers, past the superficial or less-helpful or just wow that’s so unrelated to anything answers, to the good stuff. The real stuff. The honest and true. The responses that resonate. Because they are coming from YOU.
Or at least, that’s our noble hope and intention.
A good MBA admissions consultant never tells the client what to write. We REACT to the ideas that a client has, and give them unbiased, neutral, third-party feedback. We coach them.
And, importantly: We give the reaction that A COMPLETE STRANGER MAY HAVE.
Since, after all, the MBA admissions committee person reading your app will, uh, be A COMPLETE STRANGER.
A good MBA admissions consultant will tell you when you’re full of it. When you’re a little too puffed up. Or when you’re being vague, or just generally confusing with the things you’re trying to say.
We help you sort through your ideas and come up with the ones that have the most potential. Then we tell you if you’re being clear on how you’re expressing those ideas.
Back to Derrick Bolton: He said much more than just that one soundbyte quoted on the GSB blog. In fact, here’s the entirety of his exchange with the journalist:
WSJ: There are so many admissions consultants these days. Do they help?
Mr. Bolton: Applicants approach the process saying, ‘What are the areas over which I have control?’ They see part of that as getting coaching or guidance from someone who may have seen more candidates.
Does it help? Does it hurt? It’s candidate by candidate. What I would always ask is, ‘How can someone who doesn’t know you help you be a more authentic version of yourself?’ Some people probably can, if they’re asking the right questions. There’s a fine line.
Hmmm. Talk about selective quoting, GSB. You’d think you could’ve included the whole thing on your blog.
Stanford GSB, love you guys, but along with the efforts we’re seeing of being more direct and clear with the instructions on your website, we do hope that you’ll consider changing your very rigid position on the value that good admissions consultants might provide to your applicants.
We had more to say on this topic in a follow-on post.
The full WSJ article is here . Special thanks to WSJ journalist Melissa Korn for helping us find it awhile back, since the link on the GSB blog was dead when we tried to retrieve it.
Here's what others have said about this:
Lol. An article filled with hypocrisy. If you offer services as what you claim in the essay, no one has a problem. However, you write essays for applicants charging outrageous fees. Even if you offer it for free, I am against it. What happened to integrity?
@Sri, thanks for the comment, but you have a complete misunderstanding of what we do. We don’t write essays. Heck, we don’t even edit them! You can see the Ethics section on our Essay Reviews page for our policies – that paragraph starts off with “EssaySnark takes ethics seriously. Your work must be your own” and goes on from there. Lots of MBA admissions consultants actually get much more involved in their clients’ drafts than we do and they would still (mostly) be considered ethical in the services they provide.
EssaySnark coaches people on what it takes to get in to top schools like Stanford. We REVIEW essays, and offer feedback on content and positioning. Ethics is one of our most important business philosophies and we even have “fired” clients who cross the line. Lots of top schools actually invite people to use admissions consultants (see a video from Dawna Clark at Tuck on this page) since it helps the candidate to present a better, more honest and authentic application.
In answer to your “charging outrageous fees” claim, first, our prices are way lower than you’ll find with many of our competitors, and second, we offer so much stuff for free – including essay reviews!!!! – that it’s kinda ridiculous. We have a whole pro bono program where we give free or radically reduced services to military, teachers, and others. Our entire purpose in starting this here blahg was to help even the playing field.
We do appreciate your concern – we react the same way when we hear of consultants writing essays for applicants! However that’s never what we have ever done and it goes against all of what we stand for in the MBA application process (and life itself). We invite you to spend more time on the site so that you understand what we’re actually about.
Nice to see my comment was taken sportively but afraid that you misinterpreted it. Derrick commented on “admission consultants.” Derrick never mentioned EssaySnark exclusively in his statements and even my comment above was not against EssaySnark. In your article, you used “we” pronouns all through, which implied that you represented admission consultants. Please note that you never, not in a single sentence, used EssaySnark as active noun; repeated use of “we” showed that you advocated for current day admission consultants.
Yes, I did read through your webpage about your services and policies. It was gratifying to see policies listed on ethical grounds.
However, this is not the case with most “admission consultants.” They write essays for applicants; they even change an applicant’s story for admission. It can be taken as a marketing strategy but if an applicant was so awesome in marketing himself, why would he need an MBA? I personally feel the pain as I know 7 different languages and worked hard on my essays all by myself, but only to get dinged multiple times. MBA is very important to me, for my goals, but unfortunately, I have to compete against applicants with family businesses, and those who don’t care to throw money because they seek better returns after MBA. Ethics are compromised in this case and the admission consultants don’t bother about this.
I feel this article lacks quality. Speak for EssaySnark; I may support you. I hope you get the essence of Derrick’s and my comments. No one can comment for each individual organization; we are referring to admission consultants as a whole.
lol, look at my reply. I made few article mistakes as I wrote it in one shot (and did not read before posting). This is the struggle in writing for multi-linguists.
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